Zippers And Velcros: Life Without Them!
When we think of science and technology, we imagine space discoveries, medical breakthroughs and innovative products. Sometimes, innovations come in small packages that we almost miss. Here's one -- the automatic, continuous clothing closure, as it was originally called. What is it you ask? Well, every pant, sweatshirt and jacket has it. Backpacks, and even shoes these days have it.
We are talking about the zipper. Last week, Google honored the birthday of the man who perfected the zipper design and brought it to the world.
The idea of a zipper had been around since the mid 1850s. Elias Howe, the inventor of the sewing machine (have you seen one?) was the first to propose a button-less closure. At the end of the 19th century, Whitcomb Judson, a successful inventor, set out to create a replacement for the lengthy shoelaces which were used in both men's and women's boots. He called it the 'clasp-locker' and displayed it at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. The design was rather clumpsy and often came apart. The public could see no use for this newfangled technology!
Only in 1913, after a Swedish-American engineer, Gideon Sundbach remodeled Judson's fastener to add more teeth and make it sturdy, was the zipper a success. The US Army applied zippers to the clothing and gear of the troops during World War I. By 1930s, zippers could be found in all kinds of clothing and footwear, and had even been embraced by the fashion industry. Today, more than 90 percent of the world's zippers are made by one Japanese company YKK, which has over 200 factories around the world!
Velcro: Lessons from nature!
On a lovely summer day in 1948, a Swiss inventor and his dog were out for a walk. They both returned home covered with burrs -- the plant seeds that cling to animal fur. Curiosity led George de Mestral to examine the burrs with a microscope. He saw all the small hooks that enabled the seed-bearing burr to cling so viciously to the tiny loops in the fabric of his pants.
Mestral wondered if he could build a similar two-sided deisgn, one end of which would have hooks and act like the burr, and the other a loop (much like his pant's material). He picked nylon for making hooks -- a material that had been invented just then, but he could not find a weaver willing to help him. His idea was met with resistance and even laughter. Mestral however refused to give up. He was obsessed with his invention, gave up his job and borrowed money from friends to pursue his dream. After two decades of laboring on his idea and at many times, close to giving up, he finally perfected his velcro hook and loop design.
NASA was the first to adopt the Velcro for space suits, and soon, Mestral was selling over sixty million yards of Velcro per year! Today it is a multi-million dollar industry. Not bad for an invention based on Mother Nature, isnt it! And a lesson in patience and perseverance for all of us.